Ashford Castle - the iconic hotel which hosted Oscar Wilde, John Lennon and Ronald Reagan as guests - has been sold to the UK-based Red Carnation Hotel group.

The castle in Cong, Co Mayo had been bought for €50m by developer Gerry Barrett in 2007 but was on sale for about half that amount.

Receivers Ernst & Young were appointed to sell the property by Lloyds bank after its division Bank of Scotland Ireland funded Mr Barrett's purchase of the property.

This afternoon Luke Charleton of Ernst & Young said the deal would "maintain 160 jobs in the Western Region”.

Red Carnation Hotels' Managing Director Jonathan Raggett said it would undertake a refurbishment programme that "will restore this illustrious hotel to its former glory, and build on the fine reputation that the hotel already enjoys."

No purchase price has been disclosed.

The castle remains a major tourist attraction and was the setting for "The Quite Man" starring John Wayne.

The new owners say the property will continue to trade under the name Ashford Castle.